Canine Cancer: Lymphoma

Learn about the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of this common canine cancer.

By | Posted: August 12, 2014, 4 p.m. PST

Lymphoma is a common form of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, a network of vessels, nodes, and organs that are part of the circulatory system.

"The lymphatic system produces B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes, disease-fighting white blood cells that travel through the blood in a fluid called lymph,” says Mona Rosenberg, D.V.M., a board-certified veterinary oncologist and founder of Veterinary Cancer Group, which has four locations in Southern California. "Lymphoma occurs when lymphocytes grow uncontrollably, forming tumors in the lymph nodes that can spread to the organs, tissues, and bone marrow.”


Symptoms of Dog Lymphoma

The most common sign of early-stage lymphoma is enlargement of one or more lymph nodes, located near the front of the jaw, in the armpits and groin, at the front of the shoulders, and behind the knees. "Many owners discover the enlarged nodes when petting their dogs,” Rosenberg says.

More advanced signs include:

  •  Anorexia, or lack of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drinking
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting

Risk Factors for Dogs with Lymphoma

Although any dog can get lymphoma, certain breeds are genetically predisposed, including:
  • Boxers
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Retrievers, including Golden and Labrador Retrievers
  • St. Bernards
Lymphoma occurs equally in males and females, with middle-aged to older dogs most often affected.

Diagnosis of Lymphoma in Dogs

The first step of diagnosis is typically a fine needle aspiration, during which the veterinarian inserts a tiny needle into an enlarged lymph node to extract a cell sample. The cells are viewed under a microscope to determine if they are abnormal.

Other tests include:

  • Core needle biopsy to check for tissue abnormalities
  • Blood work to look for cancer in the organs
  • X-rays to check for cancer in the lungs
  • Ultrasound to look for cancer in the gastrointestinal tract and surrounding organs
Lymphoma is classified by stage — ranging from 1 to 5 — and the type of lymphocytes affected. "Dogs at all stages can respond to treatment and go into remission,” Rosenberg says. "However, dogs with B-cell lymphoma statistically live longer than those with T-cell lymphoma.” About 75 percent of canine lymphomas are B-cell.

Treatment for Dogs with Lymphoma

Since lymphoma travels in the bloodstream, veterinarians use chemotherapy drugs to target the entire body. Rosenberg says that a typical protocol involves a combination of pills and injections administered over a six-month period.

"Ninety percent of dogs treated with chemotherapy go into remission, and most don’t suffer any adverse side effects,” she says. Untreated dogs typically live only four to eight weeks from the time of diagnosis, while the median survival time for treated dogs is about one year.
Rosenberg advises that owners discuss treatment options with their veterinarian and a veterinary oncologist to determine the appropriate protocol.

Cancer Prevention

Although no known prevention for cancer exists, Rosenberg recommends a healthy lifestyle that includes adequate exercise, a nutritious diet, and avoidance of unnecessary environmental toxins.

More on Canine Cancer



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Patti   Springfield, Tennessee

2/26/2015 8:56:23 AM

My (then 4 year old) Min Pin mix was diagnosed in April 2014 with stage four T cell Lymphoma of the liver and lymph nodes. We opted not to treat her with chemo, as the results for this advanced stage are not that great. She was put on rx food for liver damaged dogs, steroids, a low dose antibiotic, milk thistle drops and cancer support vitamin drops we found online. Her prognosis was 8-10 weeks. Yet here we are ten months later and she's shown not one symptom since recovering from cutting her open to get a biopsy. IV read spontaneous regression is rare and so is mis diagnosis due to swapped labeling of tissue samples. There has to be some explanation for this. As for me, I'm thanking God.

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Patricia   Sun Valley, California

1/20/2015 7:52:23 PM

My (then 5yr old) Ausi was diagnosed in Nov 2012 with lymphoma. He seemed to go into remission with the first chemo He completed the year's protocol and them transferred into the oral chemo regimen. He is now over 3 years in remission and at the end of the 2yr oral course We are at the point where we had to decide to either continue the oral Rx and risk losing bone marrow to it, or to stop it while still in good shape and hope that he doesnt come out of remission but with the hope that if he does, he can begin chemo again (as long as his marrow was good) We have opted to titrate down the oral chemo so that in 3 mos he will be off of it (now being age 8) He has had the greatest oncology vet and no matter what happens, he has been a blessing to the family

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